Beowulf , Grendel, and Intertextuality:. reading an Anglo-Saxon epic through a postmodern novel. Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon epic oral components Transcribed (or composed) by a monk Verse qualities kennings alliteration caesura Structure two part three part Digressions (interlace).
Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.
Beowulf, Grendel, and Intertextuality: reading an Anglo-Saxon epic through a postmodern novel
Beowulf • Anglo-Saxon epic • oral components • Transcribed (or composed) by a monk • Verse qualities • kennings • alliteration • caesura • Structure • two part • three part • Digressions (interlace) Reconstructed 7th century helmut, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England. Now in British Museum.
Anglo-Saxon Culture • Warrior Culture • comitatus • thane • wergeld • scop • FATE (weird) • Christianity • direct references to Hebrew stories • indirect allusions to Christian narrative • PROVIDENCE (God) 7th C. Shield, reconstructed from objects found at Sutton Hoo. Now in British Museum.
Violence and Revenge (loyalty run amok) Sapience vs. Fortitude Celebration of courage, mourning of cultural loss Exchange of wealth, traffic in women Relationship between creation and destruction Issues or tensions Gold and enamel belt buckle found at Sutton Hoo. Now in British Museum.
Understanding Genre • Definition – not a static system of literary types but a dynamic, flexible set of features that aid the processes of creation and interpretation of literature • Distinctions • Genre (drama, narrative, lyric) • Subgenre (epic, novel; primary epic, secondary epic) • Mixed genre • Mode - qualities of a genre that can be carried into other settings (i.e., epic scale/themes in Star Wars) • Conventions • Level of diction, tone • Expected content • Typical characters/plots • Range of themes or topics (topoi) [see Alistair Fowler, Types of Literature]
Epic Purpose Epic, like myth and legend, develops to help a culture solidify its sense of identity How do we define the group? [Who’s in, who’s out? What stories define our history?] How should we behave toward each other? [What are our obligations to one another? What qualities should men and women posses? -- how do we define virtue?] Are there powers beyond our own, and, if so, how do we relate to them? • Art works. • Late twentieth-century interpretations of literature focus on how it (the work of art) functions within society. According to these approaches, genres have purposes and emerge/adapt to meet needs in society. • Authors work within limitations • Of language • Of culture • Of memes meme -- wikipedia
Epic Conventions based on study of classical Greco-Latin texts Epic question Epic similes [kennings] Catalogs [absent] Formal speeches Set pieces [battles, banquets, inserted songs] Epithets [kennings] Trip to underworld– katabasis Homecoming -- nostos Objective, narrative voice • Hero of elevated stature, national or international importance • Unified action • Involvement of gods • in medias res [ab ovo] • Elevated style • Vast setting • Invocation to muse [absent]
Part I: Slaying of Grendel Preliminaries The Problem 48-169 Hrothgar’s mead hall heorot arouses Grendel’s envy Legal constraints (l. 66) Foreboding tone (l. 75ff) Caedmon’s (79-90)—pp. 116, 117 in our text, Bede’s History Grendel’s arrival – spawn of Cain; but compare lines 108-110 with 8-11 Ironic understatement – 122ff Christian interpolation – 156ff • 1-48 Scyld Scefing • Isolation/consolation • Civics lesson • Guard/ward • Ship burial & Sutton Hoo • Current Archeology -- Sutton Hoo
Part I, cont. Beowulf’s arrival – courtesies among warriors • Departure and journey (170-190) • Arrival and greeting of coastguard 191-285 • News announced to Hrothgar 286-364 • Beowulf’s first beot 365-405 • Hrothgar’s response 406-437 • Unferth’s response (Breca) 438-544 • Wealtheow’s appearance (546-578) • Don’t let the bedbugs bite 594-629
Part I, cont. Battle and Victory The monster’s defeat • Girt with God’s anger • Cruel laughter • Grappling with Beowulf • Singing despair • Shielder of men cleanses Heorot • Lay of Sigemund • Magnificat • Unferth’s silence
Part II: Grendel’s Mother • Opening passage: physical cleansing and moral warning leaves small opening for free will • Treason and treachery • Celebration or mourning? • Lay of the Finnsburg • Wealtheow’s worries • An awful reversal • The border-dwellers • Aeschere is dead: trophy displayed • Beowulf’s katabasis and battle • Hrothgar’s sermon • Beowulf’s nostos
An illustration – “What’s your field, Mr. McGarrigle?” “Well, I did my research on Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot,” said Persse. “I could have helped you with that,” Dempsey butted in. . . . “It would just lend itself nicely to computerization. . . . All you’d have to do would be to put the texts on to tape and you could get the computer to list every word, phrase and syntactitcal construction that the two writers had in common. You could precisely quantify the influence of Shakespeare on T. S. Eliot.” “But my thesis isn’t about that,” said Persse. “It’s about the influence of T. S. Eliot on Shakespeare.” --David Lodge, Small World A definition – “a textual strategy which invites, and directs, a double-focused response or ‘interreading’” “a poetics of relational writing that demands a strategy of relational reading” A methodology lying somewhere between source studies and cultural semiotics “the pervasive method by which twentieth century writing articulates its sense of history, its awareness of its dependence on an infinity of texts déjà lus, at the same time as it declares its conditional, ironic, independence” a style of writing on a “tightrope between ‘exhaustion’ and ‘replenishment” -- Andreas Höfele, “Twentieth-Century Intertextuality and the Reading of Shakespeare’s Sources” Intertextuality
Grendel reading Beowulf • Sites of intertextuality in our reading: • Beowulf’s story and the lays about previous Danes, Geats, or Finns • Beowulf and Rood/Caedmon/Genesis/Gospels • Grendel and Beowulf • Grendel and King Lear, The Wasteland • walking a “tightrope between ‘exhaustion’ and ‘replenishment”
Structure[event] Shield Sheafson’s ship burial Hrothgar builds Heorot Grendel begins attacks Grendel as descendent of Cain Beowulf arrives Breca digression Beowulf defeats Grendel Sigemund slays dragon, is replaced by Heremond Hrothgar rewards Beowulf Lay of the Finnsburg Content[significance] Underscores the transitory nature of success; foreshadows ending Dual versions of Breca contest emphasize need for interpretation; associate matter of Cain with betrayal of kin Sapience and strength: or is it cunning? What price glory? What is a good king? Forshadows ending Foreshadows Heorot’s second decline, which occurs outside the narrative but is known to the original audience. Interlacing Design
Interlacing Design • Beowulf’s story is interrupted by numerous digressions. Each plays a role in foreshadowing the action of the epic or developing its philosophic tone. • Poetic features reinforce the interlacing design as alliteration ties two halves of the line (separated by the caesura) together. --Style recapitulates structure
BeowulfandRood/Caedmon/Bible • “Dream of the Rood” and “original sin” • Cain and murder • Adam and forbidden knowledge • Creation • direct quotation of familiar poem • reinforces concept/role of scop • “Old” vs. “New” Testaments • direct allusions to Cain • indirect allusions to Mary, Beowulf as Christ figure • begins with genealogy
Grendel as epic in medias res epic similes – or, at least, lots of similes low language, bathos epic theme: pain/stupidity of “my idiotic war” anti-hero Dialectic structure nihilistic, pattern-makers victim of prejudice, scape-goat Christ-figure Beowulf as epic ab ovo kennings, alliteration, litotes epic tone epic theme: hero as center of national identity superhero Cyclic structure elegaic tone: celebration/loss Pre-christian, heroic sacrifice Interlacing design:Grendel and Beowulf
Examples from Chapters 1-4 zodiac – April is the cruelest month [Ch. 1; Eliot] “elderly, slow-witted king” [5; Lear] “the grasses peek up . . . the children of the dead” [7; Eliot] “if he had sons, they wouldn’t hear his words. They would weigh his silver and his gold in their minds.” [53; Lear] nihil ex nihilo [Lear, Augustine] Resulting Significance cycle of violence, tone of Wasteland chronic problem of succession in Beowulf cycle still present in Europe—WWI, cold war, Balkans universalizes generation gap emphasizes theme of creation, (poetry), nihilism(violence) Interlacing design:Grendel, King Lear, and Wasteland
Grendel and Beowulf Defend endings of Beowulf and Grendel Criteria: appropriateness to content, structure, genre, purpose of author, means of production Contrast narrative voices of Beowulf, Grendel, Dream of Rood Debate: Mor(t)ality and Heroism Introduce elements and themes of medieval romance (chivalry, courtly love, honor/shame, myth/archetype)
In Beowulf Beowulf and Unferth’s relationship after the slaying of Grendel Beowulf’s honor and loyalty when he returns home [2165 ff, 2367 ff The theme of the last survivor – ubi sunt – [2235 ff, Wiglaf 2813 Dragon as dignified, worthy opponent [2270 ff.] In Grendel Unferth’s brand of heroism; Grendel’s relationship to him [Grendel : Unferth _______ : Grendel] Wealtheow: beauty married to dignity and goodness. Why does Grendel have to rob her of dignity? Is her heroism of a lesser degree or different kind than male heroism? How does she relate to Grendel’s mother? “quality of life” Something will come of all this . . .The things we haven’t talked enough about:
Beowulf becomes self-reflective [2325 ff] Eloquent expressions of grief and mourning [revision of the Cain narrative, 2435 ff; Beowulf’s death, Bargain metaphor: life for hoard (?) or weirgild [2415, 2799, 2843 What is a man worth? [2600, 2635, 2651 Scorpio, Hrothulf, anarchism, state monopoly on violence—119, kindness 120, indignity 122 Sagitarius, rumors of angels 133 Things fade, alternatives exclude, nothing is lost The shaper is sick; it is the business of goats to climb 139, 132 courtly love affair – nothing came of it (?) 144 we’re on our own again 146, 149 Nihil ex nihilo doesn’t mean that something can’t come from something else . . .
The hoard Beowulf’s comfort 2750, 2799, but ineffective 3015 Expecting the worst 2884, 2999, 3150 Tone: elegaic, praising the passing vir-tues of a lost, heroic age Strangers have come – by water – beware the fish – walking dead men – like trees Sing of walls 171 voluntary tumble, death-grip, accident Alternatives exclude: choice or synthesis? Tone: But what?Why, what you will . . .
Grendel reading Beowulf:the big questions Can the arts make a difference? What of mor(t)ality? Do we murder each other more gently because in the woods sweet songbirds sing?